First Meeting of Christian and Jewish Students from Argentina and Uruguay

Jan 10, 2003 10:27 AM EST

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- Men and women, students and Professors were called to hold a gathering in an ecumenical center in Uruguay. It was the first meeting bringing together Jews and Christians from Argentina and Uruguay.

Their discussion made it clear that the Christian-Jewish dialogue in both countries was only at an initial stage. This is what Jeronimo Granados, a professor at the Buenos Aires Protestant college and minister of the Evangelical Church of the River Plate (IERP) also noted: "For 20 years now, I have been engaged in the Christian-Jewish dialogue, but at times, I feel quite isolated."

With 250,000 members, Argentina hosts the largest Jewish community in Latin America, there was no real discussion on the relationship between Christians and Jews in either of the two Latin American countries. Instead the presentations during November 24-25 were almost entirely about the European developments of this dialogue. according to Granados, there are good reasons for the debate being very much eurocentric: "I is rather difficult to talk about Argentina. Up to now there has not been a genuine dialogue. So talking about past history would be an opportunity to learn more about each other, to come closer to one another, without necessarily making commitments."

The Argentinean Participants at the meeting agree that there is no open anti-Semitic feeling in their country, but Granados claims that the people are reviled because they are Jewish. Somebody who has become very wealthy in a short time is sometimes said to be certainly a Jew. Shlomo Sudicovich, a student at the Rabbinical college of Buenos Aires, said in this respect: "This is due to the behavior of both sides. We, the Jews, always tend to stay among ourselves."

According an IERP minister of Uruguay, Juan Armin Ihle, anit-Semitism still lingers in the churches: "I notice a subtle kind of anti-Semitism among the pastors. Many do not distinguish between Jews and the politics of the State of Israel."

It was not until August 2002 that the Buenos Aires-headquartered United Evangelical Lutheran Church (IELU) declared its "deep affliction" about the anti-Jewish trends in its history. In the statement addressed to the Jewish communities of Argentina and Uruguay, the IELU stressed that in its view, anti-Semitism "is an insult to the Gospel and a downright violation of our hope and calling."

Felepe Yafe, dean of the Buenos Aires Rabbinical College, suspects that a part of the Argentinean society is anti-Semitic. "We feared that the economic crisis might revive anti-Semitism, but fortunately nothing of the kind has happened."

During the 1976-1983 military dictatorship in particular, the army's anti-Semitic attitude manifested itself openly. There were more Jewish victims of the regime than the official figures indicated. The exact numbers are still being investigated.

When Christian and Jewish students share their painful past experiences, and when they approach their respective religious understanding, genuine dialogue becomes possible. This hope was expressed by the Uruguay meeting participants in a closing statement: "By renewing our awareness about our experiences and our cultural and religious inheritance, we have discovered that we have already walked a long way together and that there is still a long way to go. We hope that, inspired by God's presence, we will be able to find further paths towards unity and dialogue, so as to proclaim a true message of peace, love and solidarity."

By Mike